Keyboard instruments have changed a lot over the past few centuries, and the UC Davis music department’s upcoming Keyboard Festival — with five events at the Mondavi Center between May 1 and 5 — will feature their evolution.
Showcased will be harpsichords, chamber instruments of the sort that were common during the early 1700s, when J.S. Bach was composing; a fortepiano, the instrument of choice during the career of Mozart in the late 1700s, and Beethoven in the early 1800s; and the larger, louder modern piano, created in the late 1800s, and sturdy enough to withstand the onslaught of a performance by a powerful virtuoso like Franz Liszt, with a sound big enough to fill a concert hall with more than 1,000 seats.
It will be a somewhat larger festival than the music department has put on in the past for other instruments. As faculty composer (and violist) Kurt Rohde put it, “Two years ago we talked about doing a Keyboard Festival, and it’s a little more involved than doing a Viola or Flute Festival, because there’s so much keyboard music, over so many decades. So it’s a more substantial series, over four days, with more artists.”
The series will start Thursday, May 1, with a free noontime concert in Jackson Hall, featuring members of the UCD Baroque Ensemble and the Davis High School Baroque Ensemble performing concertos for two harpsichords and four harpsichords by J.S. Bach.
The series continues Friday, May 2, at 7 p.m. with more chamber music, with UCD faculty harpsichordist Phebe Craig, Mills College fortepianist Belle Bulwinkle and early keyboard specialist Katherine Westine performing works by German Baroque composers J.S. Bach and his son W.F. Bach, French Baroque composers Francois Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau, and Classical era composers associated with Vienna like W.A. Mozart (a sonata for piano and violin), Josef Haydn (a fantasia), and Ludwig van Beethoven.
This program will give listeners an opportunity to compare the plucked-string sound of Italian-style harpsichord (“full of pizzazz,” as Craig put it) with the “smoother” French instruments, including the smaller-style harpsichord that existed in Couperin’s time, and the larger instrument that came later during Rameau’s day.
The fortepiano, which had hammers that hit the strings, created a new realm of musical possibilities that were explored by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. Tickets are $12-$17 general, $8 for students.
Then on Saturday, May 3, at 7 p.m., the UCD Symphony Orchestra will premiere a new piano concerto by Swedish-born composer Mika Pelo, a member of the UCD music faculty, in Jackson Hall, performed by Bay Area pianist Eric Zivian.
Although not formally part of the Keyboard Festival, this concert certainly complements the festival theme. Tickets are $12-$17 general, $8 for students.
On Sunday, May 4, at noon, professor and musicologist Carol Hess will be joined by Belle Bulwinkle and Phebe Craig in a discussion of “the great evolution of keyboard instruments” that took place in the 18th century, as the fortepiano developed into an instrument that could play both loud and soft, and the “significant changes in keyboard technique” that resulted.
After the discussion, guests can inspect (and even gently play a few notes on) several harpsichords, a clavichord and a fortepiano that will be on display.
“It will be like the family tree of keyboard instruments,” Craig said. “But even though the instruments may look somewhat similar, there is a gulf between them.”
This is a free event.
At 3 p.m. Sunday, May 4, there will be a free recital in the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre featuring faculty pianists Lois Brandwynne, Michael Seth Orland and Marilyn Swan, who will take turns performing a variety of works by Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Messiaen, Rachmaninoff and more, which were composed with the more modern versions of the piano in mind.
Then the festival will conclude that evening at 7 p.m. with a recital on fortepiano and piano by Eric Zivian. The program includes several short works composed for fortepiano by Muzio Clementi, Mozart and Beethoven (the Sonata in C Major No. 2, with Zivian and cellist Tanya Tomkins), performed on a copy of a 1795 instrument.
Then Zivian will move to a modern Steinway, and perform short works by UCD faculty composers Christian Baldini and Kurt Rohde, works by French Impressionist composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, and other works. Tickets are $12-$17 general, $8 for students.